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Racial discrimination claim will proceed against Purdue coach

March 30, 2018

The Indiana Northern District Court has allowed a racial discrimination claim to continue against a Purdue University baseball coach after finding one of his player’s adequately alleged the coach treated him differently because of his Mexican heritage.

As a Purdue University Northwest baseball player under head coach Shane Prance, Jose Resendez alleged he was subjected to racial discrimination during the 2014-2015 season. The complaint Resendez filed in Jose Resendez v. Shane Prance, et al., 3:16-cv-862,  alleges Prance directed a racially derogatory comment toward Resendez and, in general, treated non-white players worse than white players, including giving white players more game time.

Resendez also alleged Prance inaccurately reported that Resendez “attacked” him in March 2015, when Resendez said the two only engaged in a heated argument. Prance, however, reported Resendez purported attack to Resendez’s father and Tom Albano, the school’s athletic director.

The tension between the coach and player culminated in April 2015, when Prance called police to report that Resendez and his girlfriend were shooting paintballs at his house. Resendez denied the allegations, and police were unable to locate a paintball gun in his possession.

Prance, however, told Albano that Resendez was the culprit, resulting in his suspension from the team. According to Resendez, Albano learned the allegations were false, but the suspension was not lifted, and the coach was not disciplined. Resendez also sought help from chancellor James Dworkin, who allegedly knew about the slurs but failed to discipline Prance.

Resendez then sought a legal remedy, filing suit in the district court and alleged federal claims of racial discrimination and state claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He also sued the university, which, along with the individual defendants, moved to dismiss.

In a Thursday order, Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, granted the motion to dismiss the claims against Albano and Dworkin, finding Resendez failed to prove either university employees acted intentionally or with deliberate indifference to Prance’s alleged discrimination. Similarly, Resendez’s claims against Purdue failed because he did not allege the school employed a discriminatory disciplinary process, or that employees other than Prance knew of the discrimination.

The equal protection claim against Prance, however, will continue after DeGuilio found Resendez adequately pleaded that Prance caused his suspension because of his race. DeGuilio also found that Prance’s qualified immunity argument — which assumed that Resendez was suspended because of the March 2015 altercation — was misplaced.

“If the evidence ultimately shows that Resendez was suspended only for a verbal altercation with his coach, then Resendez will have failed to prove an equal protection claim in the first place,” the judge wrote. “But if he proves that Prance intentionally discriminated against him and caused him to be suspended because of his race — which he has alleged — then qualified immunity will not shield Prance from liability for that intentional misconduct.”

DeGuilio also allowed Resendez’s claim of defamation per se proceed based on the allegation that Prance made false statements about his player to the police. That conduct fell outside of the scope of Prance’s employment, DeGuilio said, defeating his Indiana Tort Claims Act immunity argument.

Similarly, because Resendez claimed Prance’s statements were made without belief of truth, the coach’s qualified immunity argument also fails, the judge said. The intentional infliction of emotional stress claim could continue for the same reason.

However, DeGuilio did grant Prance’s motion to dismiss on Resendez’s claim of defamation stemming from Prance’s conversation with Albano. The conversation that led to Resendez’s suspicion was in the scope of Prance’s employment, so the judge found immunity applied.

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